Actors Sue Seeking Royalties on Merchandising of Their Classic Film and Television Roles

When actor Zack Ward played Scott Farkus in 1983’s The Christmas Story, he probably had no idea that not only would the film be considered a classic but decades later his character would live on in merchandise like action figures, which use his likeness from the 1983 film.  In fact, that is the subject of a lawsuit by Ward against Warner Bros., since the action figure featuring his younger likeness was produced without his permission.

According to WXEL Public Television, Ward is just the latest actor who is suing for a share of the profits of merchandising relating to classic movies and television series.  These include members of the casts of classic television favorites like Happy Days and The Partridge Family, since, in some instances, the leads of the show receive merchandising payouts but the supporting cast does not.

Most acting contracts, especially those in today’s era of mega-blockbusters, contain provisions that the production companies have the right to use the actor’s likeness in promotion of the project (which includes merchandising).  This is why we continue to see the likeness of actors like Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fischer still being used for Star Wars action figures thirty-five years after the release of the original film.  Ward points out in his lawsuit that his original contract does not include such a clause.  What’s Warner Bros.’ defense?  While the action figure might look like Ward, they claim it isn’t actually Ward at all, and responded to the lawsuit with in a letter that “Although the hat, sweater, jacket and boots are similar to those worn by Mr. Ward in the Picture, the face of the character is not Mr. Ward’s face.”

It’s likely that Ward’s lawsuit will have far-reaching effects for any stars of classic films or television shows who notice their faces plastered over all sorts of merchandise without their permission and/or compensation.  It’s conceivable that the estates of deceased stars might seek similar lawsuits.

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